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Japan's volunteers fill radiation monitoring void

Fed up with waiting for the government to clean up local farms, volunteers are doing their own test to determine the levels of radiation in soil.
Last modified: 11 Mar 2012 03:07
[D. Parvaz/ Al Jazeera]

In Iitate village, a farming community roughly 40km from the damaged Daiichi nuclear plant, volunteers have been heading out every week to sample soil from rice paddies in order to test the soil.

They want to gauge how badly it remains contaminated from the radioactive steam that shot out after explosions at three of the damaged plants. Here, the government has not yet started any sort of decontamination effort, and the local community - which has been evacuated into temporary housing - has become frustrated and is taking matters into its own hands.

We headed out in the snowy, idyllic - and evacuated - village with a team lead by Hiroshi Iwase, an expert in the field of the medical applications of radiation and currently an assistant professor in radiation protection at the High Energy Institute.

While Iwase said he personally feels the village is safe to live in - parts of it register at 20 millisieverts (mSv) per year, four times the current standard for safety for adults - he said it's not recommended for people to spend a lot of time outdoors there.

Given that it's a farming community, though, it only stands to reason that most people would spend much of their time outdoors.

"I can't say you should stay in this village. However, I cannot accept that everyone who stays here will develop cancer," he said.

Iwase also believes that people are largely afraid of radiation levels because they don't really understand the science.

"It's difficult to understand radiation, but easy to understand newspaper articles - and reporters can't always understand radiation," said Iwase.

"So the information is wrong, and people read it and think it's a scandal...but radiation workers, like me, are allowed 20 mSv per year, and at 100 mSv [per year], 0.5 per cent develop cancer," said Iwase, baffled by why people here would choose to "trust the media, not the experts and the government."

He also said there's not much evidence to prove what the long term effects of radiation at these levels is.

"Some data exists from Hiroshima," he said, leaving it at that.

Hence these weekly expeditions: